Kampala — Rumours that the 2007 ebola scourge originated from a family that ate a goat, which had recently suffered a monkey bite terrified many Ugandans. The scourge left over 35 Ugandans dead and about 150 infected.
The thought that Uganda's wildlife might be infected with the ebola virus left some people worried, especially those that are keen to eat the meat of wild animals such as hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes, warthogs, baboons, waterbucks and zebras.
It is illegal for humans to eat wildlife meat be it raw, roasted, cooked or fermented except if it is sold by licenced restaurants, which can easily be regulated and held accountable.
The decision to outlaw the wanton consumption of wildlife meat is meant to protect the health of people and not to deny them their right to enjoy sumptuous meals of game meat.
All meat is supposed to be given health certification before it is made available for consumption by the public.
But in the case of wildlife meat, this does not happen because the handlers are compelled to operate in secrecy in order to avoid being caught.
They kill, transport, store and sell the meat in circumstances that do not allow the exercise of proper hygienic standards.
For instance, a group of poachers was once arrested with fly-infested kob carcasses crammed under the seats of a taxi that was headed to Masaka from Mbarara.
In another case, a woman was arrested with huge chunks of roasted buffalo meat in dirty torn sacks, while another group of people was caught selling it in a makeshift shelter in one of Kampala's slums. The risks associated with eating game meat are huge.
Wildlife is exactly that, wild. Everything about wildlife is wild right from the places they roam to the behaviour exhibited. It is, therefore, imperative to eat game meat only in those places that have been licenced and can give you assurance on its safety.
Sam's Restaurant on Bombo Road and Game Ranchers at Garden City are some of the places that have been licenced to sell game meat, which they import from South Africa.
Areas in Uganda where game meat is notoriously sold include Nakasongola, Luwero, Kiboga, Masindi, Mubende and Kampala districts. However, several places in western Uganda also sell game meat.
As Ugandans intermix with people from primate-eating cultures in neighbouring countries, the possibility of adopting such cultures heightens, hence the need to be more vigilant in sensitising the public about the dangers of certain practices.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority implores Ugandans to desist from interacting with wildlife in any way (touching, hugging or eating) because that can cause exposure to viruses and diseases through ticks, fleas or direct transfer.
At the same time, you can't know how many tapeworms and hookworms enter your digestive system as you enjoy that piece of roast baboon or crocodile meat.
Wildlife is a treasured national heritage; it attracts tourists both foreign and local and it brings in the much-needed foreign exchange.
It is also important for the ecosystem. Carelessly interacting with wildlife could lead to human-animal transmission of diseases or vice versa.
This could negatively affect the tourism industry which is currently posting encouraging performance rates and directly or indirectly employs up to 17% of the population.
The writer is the Public Relations Manager of the Uganda Wildlife Authority